What Is Love?

What Is Love?

The madness of love is the greatest of heaven's blessings.

- Plato, Phaedrus, 245b

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of love. In Plato’s Symposium a character called Aristophanes tells a story about Love. He says that once, near the beginning of time, there were three types of human, one male, one female and one that was part man and part woman. Each human type had four hands and four feet and one head with two faces, and what they lacked in beauty they made up for in power and bravery - they even dared to attack the Gods. Zeus, as usual, lost his patience and resolved to split these creatures in half to diminish their strength and increase their numbers. His plan was that there would be more people to offer sacrifices but they’d be too weak to bother the Gods. However, with the split he inadvertently created us - lonely creatures forever searching for our other halves. Aristophanes explained to Socrates, “human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is what we call love”. This is one version of love that still seems to have strange echoes in the culture of today, but how has the Western understanding of the Philosophy of Love developed since Plato?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on The Philosophy of Love

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Love is a complex and powerful force, one that plays out in a number of emotional, cognitive and social ways.

When we love a person, we feel emotional arousal in their presence. We will also have a set of thoughts (or cognitions) about that person, and our previous experiences can shape our ideas about what we expect in our relationships. For example, if you believe in love at first sight, then you are more likely to experience it.

But we use love in many different contexts. You might say that you love your partner, or your family, or your best friend, your job or even your car. Clearly, you’re using the term in different ways that highlight the various dimensions of love.

The ancient Greeks described several different types of love. Following the Greeks, the sociologist and activist John Alan Lee suggested that there are six broad styles of love...

Continue reading Rachel Grieve's article: There are six styles of love. Which one best describes you?

Further Reading

This essay focuses on personal love, or the love of particular persons as such. Part of the philosophical task in understanding personal love is to distinguish the various kinds of personal love. For example, the way in which I love my wife is seemingly very different from the way I love my mother, my child, and my friend. This task has typically proceeded hand-in-hand with philosophical analyses of these kinds of personal love, analyses that in part respond to various puzzles about love. Can love be justified? If so, how? What is the value of personal love? What impact does love have on the autonomy of both the lover and the beloved?...

Philosophers from the ancient Greeks on have traditionally distinguished three notions that can properly be called “love”: eros, agape, and philia. It will be useful to distinguish these three and say something about how contemporary discussions typically blur these distinctions (sometimes intentionally so) or use them for other purposes...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Love by Bennett Helm

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

 DesireEmotionEvolutionary Psychology | Friendship | Psychology

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